SMOC group home building permit upheld Wednesday, February 27, 2008
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - The Zoning Board of Appeals last night upheld Building Commissioner Michael Foley's decision to give SMOC an occupancy permit for Sage House, a group home for recovering addicts and their families.

Board members voted unanimously to deny an appeal led by Lawrence Hendry of Ardmore Road, saying the program complies with the Dover Amendment, which limits the amount of local review for educational and religious projects.

Foley issued the permanent occupancy permit in November for Sage House, which moved from 61 Clinton St. to 517 Winter St. and expanded its program to up to 15 families and 40 people.

Chairman Phil Ottaviani, who was one of the three members who voted on the appeal, said he was "torn" in his decision and wonders whether SMOC will do a better job of being a good neighbor than it has in the past.

At least one resident of Sage House uses a car to get to an off-site job. Residents of the program are not allowed to have cars unless there is an emergency. Hendry and other neighbors showed board members pictures of the cars parked on several streets near the new Sage House.

Staffers met with SMOC officials after hearing about the proliferation of cars, said SMOC attorney Marisa Pizzi, who was not aware that at least one resident still uses a car.

"You'd like to see them doing the program the way they say they're going to do the program," said Ottaviani during the board's deliberation. He saw the truck used by the Sage House resident several times in recent days.

"I feel for the neighborhood. I have concerns about what's going on over there. How they run the program is a reflection on SMOC. They should really care about how they affect the neighborhood," said Ottaviani after the vote.

"I did the right thing by the law, but it wasn't an easy vote," he said.

Associate board member Tom Levenson, who did not vote on the appeal, said he doesn't expect SMOC's approach to be more friendly to its new neighbors.

"Perhaps they should have better teachers since they're not doing what they say they're going to do," said Levenson. "They come in and tell you what you want to hear and everyone has to suffer as they go on with their business."

The decision was more straightforward for board members Susan Craighead and Stephen Meltzer, who said the program meets the definition of education use as defined by the Dover Amendment.

"It's extremely broad what qualifies as an educational use," Craighead said. "It's not always your typical schoolhouse. What they're doing has a goal of educating people and helping them live with their families."

Hendry said he was "disappointed" by the board's decision, adding he will consult with his lawyer, Jason Talerman, about possible next steps in the appeal.

Pizzi said she was "pleased that the board recognized this is for an educational purpose," and encouraged neighbors to alert SMOC officials of any problems with Sage House residents.

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